CPA Exam Advice from Two of the Nation’s Top Scorers

In the last two years, two Oregon CPA exam passers were among the top exam scorers in the nation, receiving the Elijah Watt Sells Award from the AICPA. The award is bestowed upon candidates who have obtained a cumulative average score above 95.50 across all four sections of the Uniform CPA Examination and passed all four sections of the Examination on their first attempt.

And fortunately for you, we asked Oregon’s last two Elijah Watt Sells Award recipients for their advice on the exam, here’s what they had to say:

Angel DavisAngel Davis, Precision Castparts Corp, Portland – 2012 Elijah Watt Sells Award recipient:

“My first recommendation is to stick to a rigid study plan. Work will always keep you busy, but avoid making excuses to not study. Secondly, while there is a great deal of memorization, it is crucial that you force yourself to spend the time understanding the rationale behind the accounting standards. Come test time, when you can’t remember the application of a specific rule, you can apply your understanding of the principles.”

Steven PurvisSteven Purvis, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Portland – 2011 Elijah Watt Sells Award recipient: 

“Formulate a realistic plan of attack before you begin studying and stick to it. I found that the CPA exam is really a test of one’s discipline and mental endurance and it really takes dedication to perform at a high level. That being said, you’ve still got to reward yourself for all those minor victories along the way. Lastly, do as many practice multiple choice questions as you can get your hands on.”

“I used technology to help me study by doing lots and lots of multiple choice questions in the prep software, letting the software keep track of my right/wrong answers, and tracking progress. I would do multiple choice questions over and over again until I understood the concepts and had gotten each multiple choice question correct in the software at least once.”

There you have it, secrets of success from two of the best, what other tips do you have?

Gift Ideas for Accountants

Accountants by trade are prisoners of relentless stereotypes, such as being quiet and boring. As a result, they may fall prey to lackluster gifts such as ties, golf balls and monogram pen sets. In my new career as an accountant, I have met a variety of individuals within the profession ranging from hardcore vegans to wine aficionados. As a result, I have kept this diversity in mind while compiling and researching this year’s gift ideas for the accountant in your life.

Travel Bags: 

Whether an accountant is traveling to an audit site or to a seminar, a versatile travel bag is a necessity.  Pan Am (remember them?), has an extensive line of stylish retro bags perfect for any form of travel. For a truly utilitarian bag, there is the Bag of Holding, which is capable of holding a laptop, folders, pens and more!

Pan Am Bags

Bag of Holding

Water, Chocolate and Champagne Therapy: 

Auditors are always on the move and may find themselves in a remote location on an engagement. Hydro’s On-the-Go Filtering Water Bottle is the perfect remedy for clean water without the waste and expense of regular bottled water.

Hydro’s On-The-Go Filtering Water

Whether it is January 1st or April 15th, accountants need to celebrate just like everybody else. Since accountants appreciate transparency, they are sure to enjoy the Inside Out Champagne Glasses by artist Alissia Melka Teichroew.

Inside Out Champagne Glasses

Being an accountant can be stressful. Therefore, it is important for them to relax and stay healthy. What better way then therapy through healthy chocolate? Missionary Chocolates is the best prescription for any sweet tooth addiction.

Missionary Chocolates

Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee:

Accountants drink a lot of coffee, especially around tax season. A great way for an accountant to maintain their caffeine intake without wasting time is the World’s Largest Coffee Mug. Sure the coffee will get cold, but just think how much their billable hours will increase by not having to leave their desk for time consuming refills.

An accountant’s work is never done, therefore they require a constant stream of caffeine no matter what the season. A twelve months supply of free-trade coffee from Grounds for Change is sure to deliver the buzz they need to conquer a year’s worth of spreadsheets.

World’s Largest Coffee Mug

Desk Supplies:

Unless they’re an auditor, most accountants spend the bulk of their time at their desk. The perfect supplies can make their domain more habitable. If they tend to eat at their desks, a Washable Keyboard by Logitech might be just what they need.

Logitech’s Washable Keyboard

In our high-tech world, many firms are going paperless. As a result, documents are scanned, but not before pesky staples have been removed. Sure paper clips work, but they still add to the landfill. To solve all these problems, there is Go-Go Gadget Stapler, the clear staple-less stapler.

Go Go Gadget Stapler

As I mentioned earlier, accountants are not boring people and some of them are downright hilarious, wacky and brilliant. For the accountant that likes to channel their inner Jim Carey, perhaps the Crazy Calculator is the accouterment needed to remain sane in their cubicle kingdom.

Crazy Calculator

Battling through forms can leave an accountant’s eyes strained from all the small print. However, a magnifier can help and this stylish one from the MOMA won’t be an eye sore on the desk because it doubles as a paperweight.

Page Goolrick, 2008 – Magnifier and Paperweight

For more gift ideas, be sure to check out my post from last year!

Meet the Firms Tips from the Recruiters

We asked several firms at the OSCPA’s 2012 Career Showcase to give students some pointers about Meet the Firms events – here are their responses:

Special thanks to Delap LLP, Jones & Roth PC, Moss Adams LLP and Van Beek & Co. LLC for answering our questions!

Are You Ready to Meet the Firms?

Meet the Firms nights, they come around each year, just like a new “Meet the Fockers” sequel…

Jokes aside, we really don’t want you to end up in any embarrassing situations like Ben Stiller when you meet the firms, so here are a few tips.

Watch this short video we put together from the OSCPA’s Career Showcase last year, there are some great tips from attendees, including one attendee who lined up an internship the year before. By the way, if you haven’t registered yet for the 2012 Career Showcase, you can do so here.

Melissa Thornton from CalCPA also posted some great tips recently on Twitter, here are my 5 favorites – make sure to read the rest from @CalCPA_Students:

So, what other tips do you seasoned veterans have for up and coming accountants?

Also, we hope you didn’t have any Ben Stiller-esque moments at your Meet the Firms events – but if you did, we’d love to hear about it!

~ Joel from the OSCPA Communications Team

Accounting for Language

The English language is a fascinating amalgamation of vocabulary and etymology. Our modern day lexicon offers a plethora of expressions from the mundane to the ridiculous. Most of our speech is comprised of official words found in published dictionaries, while the rest is peppered with slang and jargon. Some words are extremely fun to say aloud, such as “chutzpa,” “hurly-burly,” “bombastic” and “juggernaut.” However, day-to-day locution rarely offers the opportunity to boast and bellow such colorful expressions. On the other hand, the linguistically complex world of accounting and finance is a veritable treasure-trove for the wordsmith. However, difficult to understand, the vernacular of this profession is mainly comprised of basic words. Yet, the terminology is largely defined by its own unique system and oftentimes rather stringently within the codification.

Once you enter the realm of accounting, words such as “tracing” and “vouching” take on a totally new meaning. As I delve further into this world, I am bewildered and befuddled by its confusing nomenclature. For instance, “covenant” doesn’t refer to a gathering of witches, “cutoff” is not something you wear with flip-flops, “FBAR” is not a screw-up, and surprisingly “crack spread” isn’t what drug addicts eat on toast. Although the term “involuntary conversion” may sound like the point in time when a shape shifter has its painful transformation from man into werewolf, it wouldn’t necessarily be triggered by a full moon. To get even more mind-boggling, “SOX” can’t be worn on your feet, a “fair value hedge” can’t be purchased from the garden department at Home Depot, “FASB ASC 740” is not one of the droids the Jawas sold in Star Wars and a “Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich” is not a popular European breakfast cure for a hangover.

The dynamic parlance of accounting and finance reminds me of a quote by the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, “Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.” Accounting is said to be the language of business, but as commerce evolves, so does the vernacular. As a result, accountants by trade are given the responsibility to constantly learn, grow and adapt to these changes.

If you are new to the world of accounting such as I am, acclimating may seem difficult, especially when it comes to the lingo. However, keep in mind that on your journey you may experience gains and losses, but in the end it’s all debits and credits.

Really Concrete Career Advice, Part 2: Time Management

There’s a lot of excellent, concrete advice about improving time management and executive functioning skills out there, so I’m not going to delve into specific techniques.  Instead, I want to talk about the specifics of how to tell when you’ve got a time management system that is working OK, but not working great.  In my experience, people attracted to accounting are much more likely than the general population to have a brain naturally wired to be good at tracking and sequencing tasks. As a result, since our time management skills aren’t NOT working, we are unlikely to think about whether they could be working BETTER.  I think worn brakes or tires on a car or bicycle are the best analogy to this good-enough time management – you can adapt to them, and get around safely on them for a long time before they absolutely need to be repaired or replaced, but when you do get them fixed? It’s a whole new world – you can navigate turns more quickly, deal with unexpected stops with less warning, and generally feel like you can get where you’re going with more confidence because your connection to the road is more responsive. So how do you tell when there’s room for that kind of transformation in your time management skills?

  1. You always get things done on time, but every deadline involves a heroic scramble in the last days and hours. Scrambles may be characterized by: all-nighters; asking support staff to work outside of their regular hours for your project; couriering or expressing things that could have been sent via regular mail had they been done earlier; always getting sick immediately after deadlines. (There are legitimate, not-time-management-skill-deficit reasons for reoccurring heroic scrambles in the short term, especially in public accounting since the workflow is extremely dependent on other people.  In the long term though, if this is consistently true, there’s room to work with your clients and colleagues on pacing to at least shorten the scramble phase of recurring work. This is accounting: it’s important work, but it’s not an emergency room and it shouldn’t feel like one.)
  2. You routinely cut back on sleep in order to have more time near deadlines.
  3. You often sacrifice healthy habits near deadlines, such as: cutting back on exercise; skipping regularly-scheduled occasions with family and friends; choosing between brushing and flossing instead of doing both; and eating out at random places and times when you realize you’re starving  instead of planning where & when to eat meals ahead of time.
  4. You wake up remembering detailed dreams about deadline catastrophe.

A Few Summer Thoughts…

During the month of June, Eugene really lived up to its nickname of TrackTown USA.  The US Track and Field Olympic trials took over the city for 10 days.  We were blessed with performances by the top runners, jumpers, and throwers in the USA, all hoping to earn a spot on the U.S. team going to London in August for the 2012 Olympics.  And we were not disappointed.  Everyone who competed was obviously capable of winning but there were favorites – some of whom delivered as expected, others who did not.   All in all it was 10 days of absolutely mesmerizing performances, stunning defeats and at least one very confusing decision.

While watching these truly dedicated and, therefore, incredibly accomplished folks compete, I was struck by a few thoughts (and, yes, I will tie them to Accounting before I’m done…)

(1)    In a track and field competition, there are no do-overs.  One chance, that’s it – you’re in or you’re out.  And the end result is all on you – no teammates to help or blame for the outcome.  So you had better practice long and hard and bring your “A” game.  Anything less and you go home and hope there’s a next time.

(2)    The audience for this event is primarily populated by people who also engage in at least some these activities on a regular basis.  I wondered just how many people watching had run that morning – my guess, a good 60-70% of them – of which I was one.  Can’t say that about a football audience!  So the audience knows, intimately, how these athletes feel – what they have had to go through to get to this place; what this has cost them.

Here is where I tie these thoughts to accounting:

No Do-overs: Remember to practice long and hard – always learning and improving so that you can be at your best.  Always bring your ‘A’ game.  Assume that this job/project/tax return is it – your one chance to show what you’re capable of.  Ultimately, even though you are part of a team/firm/company, your performance is all on you.

Participate: Do not sit on the sidelines.  Do not just watch others performing amazingly, be amazing yourself.  And even if you are not an “Olympic-caliber” accountant, this does not mean you can’t fully participate in all the profession has to offer.  And if you have to be on the sidelines for a time, you can cheer on your fellow “athletes” as they endeavor to attain gold.